By Keith Reid-Cleveland
One of the most universal and enjoyable activities across any fandom is pitting different characters up against each other to debate who would come out on top: Batman vs. Superman. Goku vs. Vegeta. Darth Vader vs. Darth Sidious.
Spike TV even had an entire show centered around doing exactly this called Deadliest Warrior for years in the ’00s.
Well, the Fate series of visual novels, manga and anime take that concept to the next level by ripping some of the greatest heroes and villains to ever live out of history itself—and effectively make them fight to the death.
Fate/Zero, a prequel to the original Fate/stay night series, is one of the most emotional and impactful products from the fictional universe, partially due to having such a robust plot spread throughout 25 episodes that are depicted with amazing animation from ufotable and feature compelling character development.
But perhaps its greatest strength lies in how it was able to lean on the directing style of the legendary Ei Aoki and the writing talents of the anime creative titan that is Gen Urobuchi.
If you or someone you know sits in the middle of a Venn diagram of anime and history nerds, chances are they know of Fate/Zero. If not, consider this an early holiday present!
What is Fate/Zero about?
Fate/Zero was originally published as a light novel in 2006. It received a manga adaptation in 2010, and was transformed into an anime series just a year later in 2011.
Set 10 years before the events of Fate/stay night, Fate/Zero introduces viewers to a world where a small handful of modern-day mages participate in the Fourth Holy Grail War, an esteemed battle for supremacy, as they attempt to claim the mysterious Holy Grail of legend as their own.
But instead of fighting one another directly, these mages utilize their resources to summon historical figures from throughout history to fight on their behalf. These titans of time are referred to as Servants, and you’ll see some of the greatest conquerers and most-skilled knights in history duke it out for their summoners.
The series is all about the relationships and bonds between these unstuck-in-time warriors and their mages. In some cases, the Servant takes the lead in everything from strategy to combat, and in other cases the mage plays their hand first.
And some, like the relationship between Waver Velvet and his Servant (whom we will not spoil here), elevate Fate/Zero to more than just a twisted history lesson, but an examination of myth and warfare.
OK, so we could go on a tangent and list each Servant right here, but that’s honestly one of the best parts of watching. These identities aren’t always revealed at first (as they’re often referred to as their “class”; i.e., Archer, Saber, etc.), so the series keeps you guessing.
Then, just pick your favorites and hope for the best, because it’s a bloody battle royale out there.
What makes Fate/Zero so enthralling?
I’ve covered quite a bit of ground in the world of anime and how it’s touched different genres and subjects. Just recently, I discussed that gateway sports anime can be for fans of either, and I’d like to apply the same argument here as to why Fate/Zero is a must-watch experience.
If you’re a fan of history, there’s something to appreciate here. If you’re a fan of anime, well, you owe it to yourself to experience Gen Urobuchi’s incredible writing style.
Sure, the anime would still be an enjoyable ride if all of the characters were totally original creations (the writing is truly just that good), but it’s a fun wink and a nudge when you see the likes of Alexander the Great or King Arthur bounding about.
And unless you’re an absolute history pro, chances are you’ll come across a historical figure you might not be so familiar with. And while you shouldn’t take the anime’s backstory as real history gospel, you might catch yourself doing some research between episodes. Just strap in for the twists and turns that await you.
Have we mentioned Gen Urobuchi?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Urobuchi-san didn’t originate the concept of the Fate universe, but in Fate/Zero, you’ll find one of the strongest, most compelling character arcs in the entire series. It is, by design, a perfect formula.
Need more convincing? My gaming handle has been based on a character’s name for nearly a decade now, and I even named my first dog Ryder as an ode to the battle classes of Fate/Zero.
But if you’re privy to the other works of Urobuchi-san, like Puella Magi Madoka Magica or PSYCHO-PASS, then you’ll be able to see the genius in the work, and why shows like Fate/Zero leave a personal impression.
As someone who’s always had an appreciation for learning how the world used to work and who lived in it, it was just short of a dream to see a series where so many recognizable figures were used to their wildest potential.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to watch Fate/Zero.